Myanmar: Police fire rubber bullets on most violent day of protests

Woman suffers gunshot wound to head as police crack down on demonstrations over coup

Police fired gunshots into the air and used water cannon and rubber bullets on Tuesday as protesters across Myanmar defied bans on big gatherings to oppose a military coup that halted a tentative transition to democracy. Video: Reuters

 

Police and protesters clashed in Myanmar on Tuesday, with injuries on both sides on the most violent day so far of demonstrations against the military coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, and a doctor said one woman was unlikely to survive a gun wound in the head.

Three other people were being treated for wounds from suspected rubber bullets after police fired guns, mostly into the air, and used water cannon to try to clear protesters in the capital Naypyitaw.

State television reported injuries to police during their attempts to disperse protesters – its first acknowledgement of the demonstrations taking place in the country.

The incidents marked the first bloodshed since the military led by army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing overthrew Ms Suu Kyi’s newly elected government on February 1st and detained her and other politicians from her National League for Democracy (NLD).

People receive first aid in the back of a vehicle after Myanmar police fired water cannon at protesters during a demonstration in Naypyidaw on Tuesday. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images
People receive first aid in the back of a vehicle after Myanmar police fired water cannon at protesters during a demonstration in Naypyidaw on Tuesday. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The military claimed that the NLD won by fraud – an accusation dismissed by the election committee and western governments.

Late on Tuesday, police in Myanmar raided the NLD’s headquarters in Yangon, two elected NLD lawmakers said.

The raid was carried out by about a dozen police personnel, who forced their way into the building in the commercial capital after dark, they said.

The protests are the largest in Myanmar for more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011.

UN concern

The United Nations expressed concern about the use of force against demonstrators.

“I call on the security forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Ola Almgren, the UN representative in Myanmar, said.

“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable.”

According to reports from Naypyitaw, Mandalay and other cities, numerous demonstrators have been injured, some of them seriously, by security forces.

A doctor in the Naypyitaw hospital said the shot woman had suffered what was most likely to be a fatal head wound.

“She hasn’t passed away yet, she’s in the emergency unit, but it’s 100 per cent certain the injury is fatal,” said the doctor, who declined to be identified. “According to the X-ray, it’s a live bullet.”

Neither police nor the hospital responded to a request for comment.

Demonstrators display placards calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Tuesday. Photograph: AP
Demonstrators display placards calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Tuesday. Photograph: AP

A man had a chest wound but was not in critical condition. It was not clear if he was hit with a bullet or rubber bullet, the doctor said.

State-run MRTV news said a police truck had been destroyed at a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city. It showed footage of the aftermath, including injured police.

MRTV described the protests as being orchestrated by people who wanted to harm the nation’s stability and had acted aggressively. It made no mention of the coup or other demonstrations across the country.

Earlier, witnesses said police fired into the air in Naypyitaw as a crowd refused to disperse. They then blasted them with water cannon while the protesters responded with stones, a witness said.

Footage posted on social media apparently of the woman who was shot showed her with other protesters by what appeared to be a bus-stop shelter some distance from a row of riot police as a water cannon sprayed and several shots could be heard.

The woman, wearing a motorbike helmet, suddenly collapsed. Pictures of her helmet showed what appeared to be a bullet hole. Reuters was not able to verify the video footage or photographs.

Video from the central town of Bago showed police confronting a crowd and firing water cannon. Police arrested at least 27 demonstrators in Mandalay, domestic media reported.

A demonstrator is tended by medics in an ambulance after police fired water cannon on demonstrators in Naypyitaw on Tuesday. Photograph: Maung Lonlan/EPA
A demonstrator is tended by medics in an ambulance after police fired water cannon on demonstrators in Naypyitaw on Tuesday. Photograph: Maung Lonlan/EPA

The situation nationwide was quiet by nightfall. Orders banning gatherings of more than four people and a curfew from 8pm to 4 am have been imposed on Yangon and Mandalay.

Second term

Ms Suu Kyi’s party won a 2015 election but Myanmar’s transition to democracy was brought to a halt by the February 1st coup staged as her government was due to start a second term.

Promises on Monday from Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election drew scorn. He said the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy”, different to previous eras of military rule, which brought years of isolation and poverty.

He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency would last one year.

A civil disobedience movement affecting hospitals, schools and government offices shows no sign of ending but the crowds in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and commercial hub, appeared smaller on Tuesday than the previous day.

“The main thing is we don’t want a coup,” said a 24-year-old woman protester in Yangon. “If we young people don’t come out who will?”

Activists are also seeking the abolition of a 2008 constitution drawn up under military supervision that gave the generals a veto in parliament and control of several ministries, and for a federal system in ethnically diverse Myanmar.

Western governments have widely condemned the coup, although there has been little concrete action to press the generals.

The UN Security Council has called for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and others. The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis.

Ms Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.

The 75-year-old faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in detention until February 15th. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.

Ms Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority. – Reuters